Yesterday I had a pretty unconscious parenting moment with my sweet girl Araela (almost 9.) As a mother I make mistakes often. In fact it feels like the older my children get, the easier it is to somehow miss the mark in the way I’m holding them, hearing them, loving them. Yesterday invoked some painful and useful mirroring from my daughter, and a fresh chance for me to then respond skillfully in turn.
Araela has recently been learning to skateboard, along with her younger brother Ezra (5). He got a headstart of about 2 months in building his confidence and skill-set, and seems to be a natural, so there’s been a rare role-reversal for Araela as the older sister, trying to catch up with the skills of her little brother. It had been a couple of weeks since I’d seen her skate and as we arrived at the skatepark she communicated how excited she was to show me what she’d been learning. She jumped onto her board and bravely progressed onto the course. Internally as I watched her my heart swelled to simply witness this girl for whom I feel such unspeakable adoration, respect and pride. I inhaled the sight of her with awe: her rosy cheeks and braids hanging down from her helmet, blue-jeaned legs lengthening by the day now, that fawn-like radiance of feminine pre-adolescence; the sheer beauty of her focus and grace.
And then, for some reason, rather than speaking transparently from that heartspace of my appreciation, it became intensely apparent to me how she was slowing her own momentum down by habitually straightening her knees right at the moment in the course that calls for bending them. With a tone of enthusiastic “constructive criticism” I reflected what I saw to her and strongly challenged her to implement the changes.
Almost immediately I noticed that Araela’s head dropped, her chest sank, her shoulders began to curve slightly down. She essentially collapsed energetically and started not riding as well, not caring, nor enjoying herself as much. I called her over: “What is it, Love? What’s bothering you?” She didn’t hesitate in sharing: “I feel like I was so excited to show you how much I had improved, and all you could see was what needed to improve even more. It makes me feel like~ do I need to just wait until I’m PERFECT to show you how I’m doing??” Her eyes glistened with tears of angry disappointment.
Ouch, ouch, ouch. :(
Immediately I felt my mistake: “Oh, Baby, I’m so sorry…” I brought her sweet, green-helmeted head to my chest and consciously decided NOT to try to defend myself. She pulled away and looked down, away to the side, still defeated, still hurt. I said: “Can you please look in my eyes?” She turned and faced me, her eyes welling up, showing me how crushed she felt. I said sincerely: “I am so sorry that I was insensitive to how that way of talking would feel to you. I thought I was being supportive, but instead you didn’t feel seen by me at all?” She nodded, her chest lifting slightly. Then she said: “I didn’t feel acknowledged by you for what I WAS doing well, Mom. I felt like all you could see was what I WASN’T doing well.”
How painful to have mirrored this familiar “discerning critic” drive within me, forever emphasizing the call towards improvement, towards what could be even better, more fully accomplished, awake, successful, spiritually surrendered, embodied etc… inadvertently causing pain to my beloved little girl, feeling to her like the opposite of support, the opposite of nurturance; the inverse of care. Humbling~ so, so humbling.
I apologized again with my heart aching, and said: “Thank you for telling me how that felt to you, Love. Thank you for teaching me how to be a better mother for you. And do you know what the real truth is? I think you are AMAZING! I couldn’t even begin to do what you’re doing! And you’re learning so quickly!”
I realized later that that whole way I had spoken to her, with a tone of discerning critique, was exactly how I had spoken to my son Ezra, several weeks back, as he himself was working on momentum; but for him that talking style had landed well, felt like support, attention, engaging creative challenge. For whatever reason he could feel the love it was sourced from, and from within his own authentic drive for improvement he felt inspired by my suggestions. My girl, on the other hand, wanted simply to feel seen, celebrated, acknowledged, appreciated. I can so deeply relate to this from areas of my own life, even currently, as I step out into new challenges~ not wanting to be critiqued, just wanting to be celebrated.
What a steep learning curve this Mother Path is. How to listen, ever-more-carefully, to the ways in which my speaking is landing in the hearts of my children. To not just rush into habitual ideas of what “support” or “parenting” in any given moment looks like… but instead to really be present with the ever-evolving, sensitive human hearts in my hands. What a profound responsibility it is to do our very best with our children, even knowing that they will undoubtedly be disappointed and wounded by us, hurt by our own blind-spots and immaturity, human weaknesses and growing edges. What a lofty and noble challenge: to be humbled by intense mistake one moment and to graciously rise to the occasion the next. May it be so. <3